soldier = sailor

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Thu Feb 4 18:04:08 UTC 2010

By "professional level skills" I meant "far better writing skills than the
average person and probably good enough for a position with the Enquirer."
 Few college graduates can construct such effective sentences.  The quote
came from a page of 25 reviews, all written in the same breezy, competent

He or she might just as easily said "submarine."  No need to search for a
more specific term.

Actually, though, I did make an error. Fox News referred to WWII bombers,
specifically B-17s and Lancasters, not as "fighter planes" but as "fighter
jets."  Sorry.

The point regarding "sailor" is not that all notional service members might
be included informally in the general pluralized designation "soldiers,"
though I think "soldiers and sailors" sounds more customary to me, with air
force types, marines, and others left to complain about being
(theiretically) excluded.  The point is that the reviewer is not talking
about a vaguely imagined generic crowd. He or she was thinking of specific
individuals who were obviously "sailors," not "soldiers."  An amazing slip,
if slip (from the writer's perspective) it was.
I 'm not "nitpicky." I post surprising linguistic evidence, not flunking
grades. That's somebody else's job.


On Thu, Feb 4, 2010 at 12:23 PM, Dave Wilton <dave at> wrote:

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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Dave Wilton <dave at WILTON.NET>
> Subject:      Re: soldier = sailor
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> There are different levels of error in "fighter plane" (referring to any
> combat aircraft) and "fighter sub."
> "Fighter" is the jargon term for a class of aircraft, it is not a jargon
> term for a class of submarine. The term the movie critic should have used
> is
> "attack sub," or perhaps "fighting sub."
> From the use of "fighter sub" I would not say that this movie critic had
> "professional-level skills," at least not in writing about naval subjects.
> The use of the term, in fact, displays remarkable ignorance of the subject
> matter. That said, I've seen many uses of "soldier" to mean "service
> member," "warrior," or "warfighter," subsuming sailors in its definition,
> but usually in email, conversational speech, or other non-editorial
> contexts
> and generally not in published writing.
> Also the CNN error is more understandable in that as years have gone by,
> fighter aircraft have taken on more and more of the bombing or
> ground-attack
> role. "Attack aircraft" (i.e., light bombers) have largely disappeared from
> the American military arsenal, replaced by multi-purpose fighters. (Case in
> point: the F-117 Stealth Fighter, which is designed for bombing, not
> air-to-air combat.) In the USAF and USN today, the two classes of combat
> aircraft are intercontinental-range strategic bombers and fighters (with a
> few older attack aircraft still hanging on). The CNN error is more akin to
> calling a "howitzer" a "gun" or "shell fragments" being called "shrapnel,"
> although not nearly as technically nitpicky.
> -----Original Message-----
> From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf
> Of
> Jonathan Lighter
> Sent: Thursday, February 04, 2010 8:37 AM
> Subject: soldier = sailor
> Weve already discussed whether or when marines are ever soldiers.  But the
> following ex., obviously written by someone with professional-level
> skills, shows that "soldier" now subsumes sailors too, at least for some
> people:
> 2007 _Moviefone_ [
> German director Wolfgang Petersen's U-boat drama realistically captures the
> claustrophobia and uncertainty of a fighter sub and portrays the German
> soldiers as real people, not Aryan monsters.
> Perhaps, as skeptics will chuckle, this is merely a slip. Maybe. But if so,
> it is a bizarre slip IMO. The writer obviously knows what the movie is
> about.
> Consider too the peculiar phrase "fighter sub." That supports the idea that
> the writer is not very familiar with even everyday military/naval usage, at
> least as little boys grew up learning it in the '50s.  I've heard Fox News
> refer to all combat aircraft as "fighter planes."
> (If you don't understand my point, you may be proving it.)
> The explanation (if one is needed) may be that over the past couple of
> decades, all members of the armed forces have come to be described in
> journalism as "warriors" generally. (There are several reasons for this.)
> But if "warrior" can subsume "sailor," why can't "soldier"?
> Inglish. Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.
> JL
> --
> "If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the truth."
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